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Posted at 2:34 PM ET, 12/ 1/2010

World AIDS Day: timeline of a worldwide pandemic (Photos)

By Melissa Bell
An AIDS symbol is displayed on the North Lawn of the White House on December 1, 2010 during the World AIDS Day. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Sometime between 1880 and 1945, a virus crossed genetic lines, jumping from a chimpanzee to a human in west or central Africa. The simian immunodeficiency virus is rarely fatal to chimpanzees, and it likely passed to humans who ate or butchered the animals for food. The virus in humans became a worldwide killer with a death toll of 25 million and counting.


In a photo gallery today, looks back on the history of the a little-known illness spread from Africa to become the AIDS virus, in large part because of "decades of neglect, ignorance, irresponsibility, and homophobia." Here are some of the events leading up to the first ever World AIDS Day in 1987. To see more photos and the rest of the timeline until present day, go here.

1959: First HIV Sample, Possible First Known AIDS Death
In 1959, a British man named David Carr dies of what is now suspected to be AIDS in Manchester, England. That same year, researchers take a sample of blood from an anonymous Congolese man that proves to be arguably the first confirmed HIV-1 sample. It is unknown what happened to the donor.

Blood vials to be examined for the AIDS virus, November, 26, 1997. (Adam Nadel/AP)

June 5, 1981: CDC Makes First Report of AIDS
On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports a cluster of pneumocystis in five homosexual men in Los Angeles. Initially unnamed, the disease earns the term GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) in the press. The medical community, meanwhile, tends to refer to the sickness on a case-by-case basis, by the names of diseases associated with it, before correctly identifying the disease and using the term AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) by 1982. It's believed the disease came to North America via Haiti.

Some of the pills taken by patients each day to combat the disease. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

1982: First Reports of Non-Homosexual AIDS Sufferers
Reports emerge that the disease doesn't just affect gay men, as others -- mainly hemophiliacs and Haitians -- are increasingly diagnosed with the disease, as well.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide visits an AIDS patient in 1995. (Daniel Morel/AP)

July 25, 1985: Rock Hudson Announces He Is Dying of AIDS
In Paris, the actor announces that he has AIDS, contradicting previous reports he is suffering from liver cancer. (He'd been diagnosed with HIV the year before.) He dies on Oct. 2, 1985 at his Beverly Hills home. He is the first celebrity known to have died of the disease. "Rock Hudson's death gave AIDS a face," actress Morgan Fairchild says later.

Rock Hudson, 1984. (Bob Riha Jr/WireImage)

1987: The AIDS Quilt
The Names Project, perhaps better known simply as the AIDS Quilt, is begun in San Francisco by a group of activists intent on establishing a memorial for those who have perished from the disease. By 1987, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 5 to 10 million people were infected with HIV worldwide; 71,000 people around the world had full-blown AIDS. Pictured: The AIDS Quilt in Washington, DC, in 1996, during a ceremony where activists, community and religious leaders, and people living with HIV read all of the names sewn into the quilt.

The AIDS quilt on the National Mall in 1996. (Paul Margolies)

March 20, 1987: FDA Approves AZT
After years of research, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (formerly Burroughs-Wellcome) sees its compound azidothymidine, or AZT, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration -- the first antiretroviral drug created specifically to combat HIV/AIDS. While AZT could not cure AIDS (there still, today, is no cure), it showed that the disease could be managed, and that HIV was not -- as it had been for so long -- a death sentence.

Some of the pills taken by patients each day to combat the disease. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

April, 1987: Princess Diana's 'Handshake Seen Round the World'
In April, 1987, Diana, Princess of Wales, shakes hands with an AIDS patient as she opens a new AIDS ward at the Middlesex Hospital in London -- and becomes the first high-profile celebrity to be photographed knowingly touching a person infected with the HIV virus. In December, 2001, Bill Clinton said: "In 1987, when so many still believed that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact, Princess Diana sat on the sickbed of a man with AIDS and held his hand. She showed the world that people with AIDS deserve no isolation, but compassion and kindness. It helped change world opinion, and gave hope to people with AIDS with an outcome of saved lives of people at risk.

Princess Diana (Anwar Hussein/WireImage)

Dec. 1, 1987: First World AIDS Day
The first international day of awareness started in 1987. Since 2001, a United Nations study confirmed that AIDS-related deaths have been decreasing in most of the world, thanks in part to the growing use of antiretroviral therapies in developing countries. For more on the AIDS virus after 1987, see Life's timeline here.

Students form a red ribbon during World AIDS Day in Chennai, December 1, 2010. (Babu/Reuters)

By Melissa Bell  | December 1, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
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View the Award winning documentary "House of Numbers" to see why questions about this
must be raised, and why deeper issues about HIV and AIDS need to be
discussed. Lives are at risk. This is the first documentary ,with the worlds
foremost authorities, that highlights the fundamental problems with HIV
testing, science, and statistics, It sheds new light on a misunderstood
phenomenon., for which there is still no cure. GO to to see the trailer.

Posted by: dsinla | December 1, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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